The Cardinals started the season one and six, losing four of those games by four points or less. You could see the team struggling to gel together on both sides of the ball. The excuse that there was a shortened training camp and no OTA’s is a bad one. The Cards had lots of fresh faces added this year, made a splash around the league in their trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb and added youth to the defense through the draft. The fans and media alike turned on this team quicker than a flapjack at a pancake convention. Growth and change doesn’t always happen instantly.
The Cardinals have won four out of their last five with the play of the defense being the main contributor. Backup quarterback John Skelton was at the helm for four of these games due to a foot injury Kevin Kolb sustained against the Baltimore Ravens. Kolb returned on Sunday to help beat the loathed Dallas Cowboys. Back to the defense.
Ray Horton was hired this year to be the new defensive coordinator. The teams third since going to the Super Bowl in 2008. His schemes are complex and have been tough for this unit to grasp and comprehend until now. In the last five games the Cardinals defense has limited opponents to scoring just 20 points or less. The only exception is the 49ers game. When teams are unable to score it gives the offense a better chance to have more opportunities to win a ball game.
Since LB Karlos Dansby left for Miami as a free agent the corps of linebackers brought in has been suspect until recently. It has taken Ken Whisenhunt more than half the season to recognize the potential of LB Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield among others. There is youth movement on the defense that is going to solidify this team for years to come.
Four players come to mind that represent this movement.
1. Daryl Washington #58 LB TCU
In his second year out of Texas Christian University, Daryl Washington has been the best player on defense all year and should easily make it to the Pro Bowl. His speed lets him roam the field with reckless abandon making plays where ever they are needed. He leads the teams with 74 tackles on the year. He has been a quick study of DC Ray Horton’s defense. On a side note if his NFL career ever crash and burns his singing voice is that of an angel and he will have a job in Vegas in no time.
2. Patrick Peterson #21 CB LSU (Rookie)
Patrick Peterson has quickly become one of the most feared men in football. Not for his coverage skills, but for his ability to sniff out the end zone as a return specialist. In just his first year as a pro Peterson already has four punt returns of 80 yards or more for touchdowns, a franchise record. One more and he would hold the NFL single season record. At 6’0” and 219 lbs. he is a cornerback who has safety size. He is slowly learning how to cover the best wide receivers in the NFL. His size and strength has lead referees to call ten penalties for 131 yards. When it comes time to pick rookie of the year Peterson may not win, but you can bet he will be in the discussion.
3. Sam Acho #94 LB Texas (Rookie)
Since his playing time has dramatically increased Sam Acho’s presence has been felt. He has demonstrated an uncanny ability to get to the quarterback. Recording five sacks since week six. He can also add three forced fumbles in the span as well. Paired along side Daryl Washington they should create a combo that instills fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks.
4. O’Brien Schofield #50 LB Wisconsin
O’Brien Schofield was drafted two years ago with a torn ACL he received playing in the senior bowl. It required knee surgery to repair. He saw very limited playing time last season as he continued his recovery. This season is a similar story. Coming from the Big Ten Conference you know his toughness and ability to tackle can’t be questioned. The healthier he has grown the better his play is. He may not be an every down but player but his addition to this corps of current linebackers makes the future of this defense very promising.
These four players along with all the other starters on defense are embracing Ray Horton’s idea of team defense and growing together as a unit. This team may have stumbled out of the block but are looking to finish strong. And with a win over division rival Niners this weekend and a whole new set of possibilities open up.